My poor husband is saddled with the least adventurous partner on the planet. JT likes bike riding, playing softball and frisbee, scuba diving, hiking, and snorkeling. I like making jewelry, reading, history, and discussing educational reforms. Thus, our vacations are always a compromise. JT wants to do adventure tours, and because I consider riding on our pontoon boat in the man-made lake that we live on, an adventure, finding a match for our competing interests is somewhat challenging.
This year, we chose to go to the Virgin Islands on a small clipper ship. I’m not a complete diva, ok some people would argue that – but I don’t really need luxury accommodations (which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t trip over myself to accept them if they were ever offered). The one thing I do kind of like (demand) is a room that’s “en suite.” The ship that we were scheduled to sail on was one that hosted 6 passengers and 4 crew members. En suite was a question mark. But we had been to the Virgin Islands and since I prefer a constant 85-90 degree temperature, we knew we could check that requirement off the list. The sailing part, however, is always a little questionable, as I have a tendency toward seasickness (meaning I ralph the minute the boat starts to roll) but I’d been on cruises and done OK, with the patch, so we figured this wouldn’t be a problem.
I was looking forward, albeit a bit timorously, to this vacation. However, it was not to be. JT and I both got some virus, possibly from those darn grandkids (OK, maybe it was from the two classrooms of kindergartners that I volunteer in weekly), and had to reschedule the trip. The company that we’d scheduled with kindly offered us a berth on another boat at no additional charge, but the airlines (American and United) were not so generous (shocking), so we spilled another $600 into the vacation bucket and took heart in the fact that we wouldn’t lose the whole trip. The biggest drawback was that the offered trip went to the Bahamas instead of the Virgin Islands. We’d been on this trip and this boat and it had been less to my liking than the trips to the Virgin Islands. On the last trip it had rained almost the entire time, we’d encountered a “white squall” and the boat had nearly keeled over, and more importantly, had it not been for JT’s extra jacket (maybe it was his only jacket), I’d probably have frozen to death. Vacation or no vacation – given that choice, we determined to go forward with a positive attitude.
After a red-eye into Nassau, we arrived on the ship in time for the captain’s introduction of the crew and safety instructions. The good news was that our cabin was en suite! The bad news was that I was already cold and we hadn’t left the dock.
That first night we stayed put at the dock and didn’t set sail until 5:00 a.m, when I awoke, pitching in my bunk, through no personal locomotion. Our cabin was approximately 6’ x 4’ with an additional small attached head-shower combo. That first morning, the small hatch above JT’s top bunk that provided fresh air from the main deck was not doing its job and I was already feeling a little squeamish (by which I mean ready to hurl), so I decided to skip the shower and hightail it above deck. Our captain had made it very clear that all barfing was to be done over the side of the ship and downwind of passengers and crew.
That day we sailed into the wind for about 12 hours. The majority of the passengers enjoyed the sailing, and the crew was as happy as, well, ship rats on a well-provisioned boat.
We traveled 90+ miles, including the tacking back and forth. At my doctor’s suggestion, I’d decided to forego the patch for this trip and try to make do with Dramamine since I’d developed an issue with dry mouth caused by the antihistamine in the patch. I feel comfortable saying, that was definitely a mistake. I spent the day on the top deck, in the sun, freezing. Hard to believe, because the passengers from Canada weren’t cold at all. The wind blew gusts of up to 30 mph and the seas surrounded us with whitecaps, of 6-7 foot waves. I couldn’t eat without the promise of barfing and I didn’t feel the sun searing my lips, since it felt like we were on a cruise in Alaska.
Once we arrived at Glass Window, off the coast of an island called Eleuthera, we dropped anchor and prepared to take the skiff over to the island. I was pretty happy to reach land, politely elbowing the other passengers out of the way so I could be first on the skiff. Since I hadn’t bothered to go below for sandals I had the wrong footwear for a wet landing (which was to become my MO on this trip) and had to be carried to the beach.
The big attraction that evening was Glass Window bridge, which has the Atlantic on the easterly side and the protected bay on the other. The Atlantic side had rocks that looked like Skeletor’s fingers, but made out of obsidian, they were ready to crush any swimmer or ship into pieces so insignificant that once washed back out to sea, even the smallest fish would turn up their noses.
That night we stayed anchored in the bay and went to the salon, below deck, for dinner and I managed not to puke. I counted Day #1 a success.
The next day we sailed for a small beach on Eleuthera in Alabaster Bay and arrived within about 45 minutes (or at least less than 12 hours) and I felt fine. It was partly cloudy, and I was cold (which was surprising because the Canadians thought it was balmy) so I didn’t take a swimsuit to the beach. I wore shorts, which is a stretch for me, and sandals – wrong choice once again (see JT hiking on the rocks at Queen’s Bath). Queen’s Bath, is another rocky point that faces the Atlantic, where giant waves pound everything that comes close to the cliffs into grains of sand. So when JT asked if I wanted to climb out over the rocks with the 30 mph winds threatening to blow me off the point, and stand on the glass-like shards above the Atlantic-side cliffs, just to get my picture taken, I looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. Predictably, he climbed out on the rocks.
Back at the beach, everyone else snorkeled and I went back to the boat to put on a suit, because I was going to conquer that 60 degree water and those ominous looking outcroppings where all the pretty (and sinister) fish hide. I don’t know who I was kidding – I could not talk myself into getting in above my waist. In Phoenix nobody even swims in their pool until it’s the temperature of warm bath water. There’s also the fact that I break out in a sweat just watching Jaws, so even though snorkeling is really tempting – I want it to be off a dock, where I can stay close enough to climb out in case an eel swims by. I really prefer to see deadly animals in National Geographic Magazine. I might not be as delicious as some of the more muscular of my species, but I’m convinced those evil looking critters like chicken as well as the next guy. The pretty coral, trumpetfish, butterflyfish, angelfish and the sea stars are what I really want to see – not sharks, or even a barracuda (have you seen those teeth and who really believes that nonsense about how they won’t attack you?). Truthfully, I’m not even psyched about the stingrays – I mean I know everyone says the Crocodile Hunter’s demise was a big mistake, but if that stingray could completely forget himself with a pro like the CH … well, suffice it to say, I’m sure all stingrays have been plotting my death for years. So what I’m really saying here is I have to talk myself into the whole process to begin with, and cold water and rough currents are not that compelling to this land-lubber.
Tuesday evening we visited Gregory Town, further down the coast, which was charming, with about 700 friendly inhabitants, and a church, restaurant and gas station for every 100 people. There were also enough bars to serve one of the big cruise ships, which apparently never come to Gregory Town because the locals were very excited that our “big ship” (12 passengers and 9 crew members) might make their town a regular stop. Some of our group snorkeled, but I was not going to snorkel when there was a town to explore. Anyway, they ended up being stalked by a shark – see what happens when you don’t take the proper precautions (never snorkeling).
That night, we sailed back and anchored at Alabaster Bay. It was rumored that bad weather was rolling in and we were definitely rolling, but as we were anchored I felt great.
The crew decided that the Pirates of the Caribbean’s soundtrack and a champagne toast to the moon were in order for a night of pitching seas and moonlit clouds. Naturally, the requisite cannon salute was also included (I’m not kidding – they had a real miniature cannon that sounded like Dolby Surround Sound had been installed on the ship). I slept through the rain, and I think JT would have, too, if his hatch hadn’t leaked on his face.
Here are some of our new friends helping us celebrate another day in the Bahamas – even the Canadians are wearing jackets.
That night we sailed through Current Cut and on to Royal Island. Once again, it was not 100 degrees or even 85. JT promised once I got in the water it would be warmer (he is a well-known liar) but I was determined to snorkel and diddddd (I might have broken some teeth from all the chattering).
Back on the boat, we set sail for Spanish Wells, which is an adorable pastel-colored town, about twice the size of Gregory Town. The captain arranged for us to have golf carts and provided us with a scavenger hunt and we practiced being teenagers, packing 5 passengers onto our cart. We were instructed to find goats, chickens, the local museum, the “all grades” school, ice cream and mermaids. We combed the island from one end to the other, narrowly avoiding death by local resident (who knew that Bahamians drive on the left side?). We (meaning JT) drank our weight in Kalik – the local beer (luckily Bahamians have made drinking and driving legal). Note from JT here: two, I had two Kaliks during the whole scavenger hunt). Lunch was okra, grits and shrimp creole on the beach, provided by the crew. (I offered the cook a place to stay in Phoenix, but surprisingly she doesn’t really care that we can fry eggs on the sidewalk).
I think it was this night that one of the crew caught a lionfish, which he proceeded to cut up for ceviche. Unfortunately, he ended up getting stung by the fish, which carries a neurotoxin that provides a most unpleasant sensation. When we googled it, “the google” said he wouldn’t die, but he’d wish he had for at least a couple of hours. He lived through it in stoic fashion. There was also some fishing that yielded barracuda on various days – JT was very excited to participate in one catch. Those are some ornery looking fish and also not edible since they may have preyed upon other fish that contain neurotoxins, which after the crew member’s experience, no one was interested in risking – although the locals say, try a little, if you don’t get sick, you can eat it!
Back on the boat, we sailed back to Royal Island and on Thursday morning, we watched two of the passengers climb the foremast (JT had done it the last time we sailed and surprisingly didn’t feel it necessary to prove he could do it a second time). Then we took the skiff to the island to swim with the wild pigs. I wore Vans, which got very wet and full of sand.
The pigs were not so much swimmers as eaters. They could be lured into the water with a hotdog or carrot, but swimming or even walking in the water is really not their environment of choice. I fed the cute critters and then sat on the beach with one of the other passengers to chat. Eventually, I felt a nudge against my back and one of the younger sows had plopped down behind me and snuggled her back up against mine. Oh, how adorable I thought until she decided she was hungry again and butted me with her snout. When I didn’t feed her, she tried to eat my toes that I had buried in the sand, and then when I disabused her of that plan, she decided that the zipper pull on my jacket would have to make due.
The crew set up a “Pig Bar” on the far side of the island that morning and stocked it with a variety of kinds of rum, which everyone sampled, and sampled, and sampled …
That night or the next night (I lose track because of all the rum), we sailed for Nassau and it was another wild night on the ocean. Halfway through dinner I started to feel a little queasy and went up top where it was pleasant and breezy (no, silly, it was freezing!). JT brought me blankets and I sat up on deck until late that night, wishing that I could just will myself over to the damn island. But, even though the seas were roiling, and sloshing water onto the deck, I had become a brave sailor (OK, not really, but the captain promised we’d be somewhere that he could drop anchor by 11:00). It was a beautiful night, though, and some of the friends I’d made sat with me, watching the stars. I’m pretty sure we saw at least one sea monster out in the dark water. By 11:00 we could see the lights from Atlantis (the Vegas-like casino on Paradise Island in Nassau) and things had started to calm down, because we’d dropped anchor, so I headed unsteadily for my bunk, where I slept in my clothes.
We docked at about 7:30 a.m. on Saturday morning and the cold sore that I’d developed from the first day of sun on deck had started to blister in earnest. In addition, I’d gotten impetigo from the damp, athlete’s foot and some weird ankle rash (probably from standing next to the crew member who’d gotten stung by the lionfish). Good thing we were going back to a dry climate.
All in all, it was an amazing adventure – the captain and crew were extremely competent, and all about customer service and we met some incredibly kind, interesting and intelligent people.
Next time, though, I really want to go to someplace where it’s just a tad less breezy, say, the Virgin Islands?